Safe Routes Newsletter

FALL 2019

International Walk to School Day October 2, 2019

Safe Routes to Schools has many helpful materials and incentives for your school.


Walking School Buses

A Student’s Experience Arriving at School Sets the Tone for the Entire School Day

Artwork by:  Humna Baporia, Edna McGuire, 2nd grade

“I have deep gratitude to have a quiet, calm way to spend quality time with my kids before they get to school,” said Juliet Starrett who started a walking school bus at Vallecito Elementary.   “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”  Inspirational  Interview on  99Walks

A walking school bus is a group of students who walk to school under the supervision of one or more parent volunteers.  It can be a weekly event in the neighborhood, or  a daily activity where parents take turns “driving” the bus.  With a bit of motivation on the part of parents, a walking school bus is easy to organize.  Pick a route, select meet-up times, and spread the word with other parents. 

According to Starrett, walking to school is an antidote to the morning stress that comes  with rushing by car.  Traffic can be  unpredictable and chaotic.  Incorporating a twenty minute routine walk before school can help children peacefully transition into the academic rigors of the day.  Children are more relaxed and able to sit longer having got their jitters out before school starts.  Starrett adds that Walking School Bus parents get the chance to talk to, connect with, and nurture their children rather than driving with eyes focused on the road.

Simply walking to school with children can fuel tremendous joy and create meaningful relationships.  Incredibly surprising was the “gigantic community vibe,” said Starrett, who formed lasting friendships with parents who she would not have met because their kids were in other grades.  “We thought parents would simply drop off their kids, but most walked to school with the bus, like one big family.”

With a little up-front planning, the Walking School Bus can actually save working parents time.  Like a carpool, parents can rotate “driving days.”   If you live too far, drive to a location 20 minutes from school to park and walk from there.   Pick a route without busy intersections, one that has quite streets and possibly neighborhood cut-throughs.  Practice the route  on the weekends to build familiarity. 

Parents who give a bit of their time reap tremendous rewards for their family.   Form a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood today.

Biking Once a Week With Your Young Child is a Super Fun Playdate

Have you ever biked to school with your child? For parents with young kids, getting out the door can be the most challenging task of the day. Biking is often ruled out due to hectic family schedules. However, it absolutely IS doable if you carve out the time to make it a priority. Two easy steps to make it happen:

Step #1: Change your child’s mindset to treasure biking to school together as a super fun adventure. Make it the best morning in your home to rise, shine, and pedal together. 

“Biking to school transforms our commute into an adventure,” says parent Amelia Spilger. Our boys are so happy on their bikes— and it’s easier to get their helmets on than to get everyone settled in car seats. We enjoy avoiding traffic, breathing the crisp morning air, and jump-starting our day by moving our bodies. Biking to school is always one of our highs for the day.”

Step #2: Go for a practice ride on the weekend.

Make it extra fun and go for an ice cream after you practice the route. The night before your first ride to school, place bike helmets, warm coats, and gloves near the front door. Tuck your child in early and remind them: Tomorrow we will wake up 20 minutes early to have fun and ride to school together.

“We are thrilled to see students filling up our K-1 bike racks every Wednesday,” said Peg Minicozzi, Principal at Manor Elementary in Fairfax. “Starting young creates habits for the rest of their lives, and builds independence. Parents who carve out the time to pedal once a week are teaching their child an important green travel lesson for life.”

“My son Benjamin is six-years-old and is always greeted with smiles by everyone we pass when riding to school together,” said Tanya Vernitsky, a parent at Bacich Elementary. “He makes eye-contact with neighbors and feels a great sense of accomplishment riding his bike.”

In the long-run, parents who teach their child to bike to school will save time driving them places when they are older. Biking is also an opportunity to bond with other families at your child’s school. “Arriving on campus and socializing with other families at the bike racks is another benefit to participating in our Walk & Roll Wednesday program,” said Laura Kelly, Marketing and Outreach Manager for Marin Safe Routes to Schools. “The program is a school community builder and creates fond childhood memories. Children eventually fly the nest solo on their bikes in 4th grade, sometimes 3rd grade depending upon school infrastructure.”

Set a goal. Bike to school with your child once a week. Energize their body, mind and spirit before the start of the school day.  It is a decision you will never regret.


Principal Pepe Gonzalez

A strong supporter of the Safe Routes to Schools Program, Pepe González is the returning Principal of Short Elementary School in San Rafael while continuing his job as the Principal of Laurel Dell.  From his position at Laurel Dell, Mr. González facilitated the implementation of the SR2S program years ago and is now introducing it to Short.

Mr. González, a Dominican University graduate, considers that Safe Routes to Schools’ contributions are important to the education of his more than 300 students between both sites. Mr. González values Safe Routes to Schools as it teaches the importance of green travel while creating a sense of community.

“Schools thrive when our community participates in events that bring us together, keep us safe, and allow us to enjoy our beautiful Marin County climate,” he says. “I love seeing our students and families walking and riding in groups, talking and connecting with each other and their environment on their way to school.”


Eyes Up - A Grass Roots Initiative

When an elderly woman and her dog were killed by a drunk driver in Sleepy Hollow on Butterfield road, the neighbors were outraged, but they soon turned their grief into action.  Messages urging safe driving behavior appeared on road signs and were posted on Next Door. 

This grassroots reaction turned into an organized effort to promote safe driving along this busy corridor in San Anselmo.   Supervisor Katie Rice’s aide, Nancy Vernon, had already been meeting regularly with residents of Sleepy Hollow, discussing infrastructure improvements when the incident happened.  Teaming up with Safe Routes to Schools, San Domenico School, the Town of San Anselmo, and the residents, a new safety campaign emerged called Eyes Up.  Many more partners joined and a local graphic artist volunteered to create the logo.  

For six weeks leading up to International Walk to School Day, iterations of the slogan are being shared throughout the community through social media, emails, and lawn signs. A survey is being conducted. Of the initial 375 responses, 80% know about the campaign and 68% said they would turn off their cell phones while driving.    If all drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians would simply pay more attention and be courteous to other road users, we would have a very different experience on the road.  Eyes Up!.

Chris Blunk

Novato Public Works Champion

Vineyard Road improvements

Novato Public Works Director, Chris Blunk, is a bit of a miracle worker.   When he joined Novato as Assistant Public Works Director in 2017, he got an earful about Vineyard Road at his first Safe Routes to Schools Task Force meeting.   This winding road, bound  by Pleasant Valley Elementary School on the west end and Sinaloa Middle School to the east,  was plagued by discontinuous sidewalks and no safe bike lane.   The neighbors wanted to preserve their rural character, and parents and bicyclists wanted safe passage.  It was at an impasse that continued for more than a decade.  Before Chris arrived, the street  was slated to be repaved without any improvements.

Chris  immediately started looking at how to resolve the issue.  His office held a workshop to give neighbors a chance to voice their concerns.. “I like this process, because it allows people to listen to each other,” he said.   Through that meeting and a walk audit with Safe Routes to Schools, Chris created a compromise; they would close the sidewalk gap  on just one  side of the street rather than both sides.   Bike lanes would be added where they could be accommodated without fundamentally changing the rural character of the neighborhood.   He used the new SB1 gas tax funds from the state to add to the repaving already funded, and created a project that was considerate of all parties.  Additionally, , the walk audit gave his staff new information to justify a crosswalk connecting Dominic Drive to Vineyard Road. 

With the sidewalks completed, more students and neighbors feel safer to travel Vineyard Road.  Now you can walk your dog and feel comfortable sending your kid off to bike to school,” Chris noted.

Chris is a firm believer in public participation.  “I believe in providing more opportunities for our residents to get involved to have their voices heard by staff and city representatives.   We can deliver a better quality product if we know what the neighbors want.” 


Leveling Up: Riding to Middle School 


With a new school year beginning, the next generation of middle schoolers are  finding their freedom on two wheels.

Now is the perfect time to practice the route to school with your kids, preparing them to start riding on their own. Thanks to decades of improvements, many routes to school are separated from car thoroughfares. Look for green bike route arrows on the pavement to find quieter routes that are designed for shared bike and car use.

By riding together, students can be safer, build friendships, and gain inspiration to ride more often.

Make sure your child knows to respect other road and trail users, to follow all traffic laws including stop signs and turn signals, to always ride in the same direction as traffic, and to wear a helmet. Being a safe and courteous cyclist can be a mark of pride, and develops a sense of professionalism that carries on throughout their education.

Riding obviously improves health, but what about overall happiness? Countless studies have clearly indicated that kids (and adults) are happier after they get exercise -- and that’s no different when they ride home from school! Students often say they have happier interactions with parents and friends with a burst of afternoon exercise, helping them transition from a day of sitting in classes.   

This year, Safe Routes will continue to provide impactful on-campus instruction to middle schoolers around the county, encouraging safe, healthy and fun trips to and from school.

Senate Transportation Bill Takes Big Strides for Biking and Walking

This summer the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unveiled its transportation reauthorization legislation, in advance of Committee consideration tomorrow. The bill is bipartisan and being released by the four Committee leaders – Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Carper (D-DE), Capito (R-WV), and Cardin (D-MD). As you may recall from prior blogs, the current transportation law expires a little more than a year from now in September 2020. The federal gas tax is no longer sufficient to pay for transportation, which makes it more challenging to get through the legislative process—so starting early is important.

The Senate bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 (ATIA), authorizes $287 billion over five years for a range of surface transportation programs. In general, the legislation maintains the existing core transportation programs and adds a number of new initiatives. The Safe Routes Partnership, working together with the League of American Bicyclists, has been pushing for two key asks in the transportation bill:

  • More funding and easier implementation of the Transportation Alternatives Program, which is the major federal funding source for Safe Routes to School, biking and walking projects.
  • Getting more safety money to bicycle and pedestrian safety to try and bring down the rising fatality rates for people walking and biking—which are now 18 percent of all traffic deaths. 
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